• Ayden K. Morgen

When the Bow Breaks: Chapter One

Updated: Sep 5



Today, I have the first chapter of When the Bow Breaks for you. You can find the Prologue here if you haven't read it yet.


About When the Bow Breaks

One horrible night changed everything for Lady Sophia Iverson and Dante Warren, forcing Sophia to wed the Duke of Griffin and prompting Dante to flee from England. But when a horrible tragedy claims the life of Sophia's infant daughter, the lovers are brought back together. Two years has changed so much for both of them, but Dante will do anything to bring Sophia back from the grief slowly killing her... even if that means opening his home to the orphaned children England's New Poor Laws have abandoned to starvation and worse. If saving their lives reminds Lady Sophia why she ever loved him in the first place... well, Dante wouldn't object to that, either.


He's always loved Sophia. He always will.


He just has to convince her that the terrible secret she's hiding won't send him running again. It won't, will it?



Bow (bou)

to bend the knee or body or incline the head, as in submission, shame, recognition, or acknowledgment.

2. to yield; submit

...

When the wind blows The cradle will rock When the bough breaks The cradle will fall And down will come baby... Cradle and all


CHAPTER ONE

London: December 1841

"Jonathan, I'm sorry, but I'm leaving," Lady Sophia, the Dowager Duchess of Griffin, said firmly. She sat with her hands folded politely against the dark blue of her morning dress, completely put together as she met her bewildered brother's gaze across his desk. "You cannot be expected to watch over me forever."


She had said as much often in the last fortnight, but Viscount Adaire found himself having great difficulty accepting her decision. As was usual since he'd returned to England six months prior, his head pounded ferociously, the copious amount of liquor he'd imbibed treating him poorly the morning after. Although, as he stared across the desk at his determined sister, listening to her calmly unveil her plans and, thus, unravel his life, his hangover seemed a hell of a lot less all-consuming than it had five minutes prior.


"Sophia, you can't be serious!" he said. It was only the fourth—or was it the fifth?—time since she'd seated herself across from him and began laying out her plans that he'd uttered the same. The foundation of his life threatened to crumble beneath his feet, but her answer had yet to change and her resolve had not shaken—not once, blast it!


Even someone not perpetually hungover would have quaked in his boots at that. In his condition, Adaire didn't stand a chance, probably wouldn't have even had he been fit as a filly. He had never been able to deny Sophia much of anything. Those brown eyes and dimples of hers did him in every time.


"I'm quite serious. I'm moving out, Jonathan." Her wide, implacable eyes met his and held firm. The determination and sadness reflected deep within her gaze left no doubt this time: his baby sister meant every word.


"But... why?" Adaire ran his hand through his unruly blond hair, at a complete loss. He simply could not fathom why Sophia wished to leave. He'd thought that she wanted to be here, that she loved having him near. That she felt safe with him... but Sophia was not the same frightened woman he'd come home to all those months ago, was she?


Somewhere over the last half a year, stoicism had replaced the terror once so plain in her eyes. She wore that stoicism like a mask now, hiding behind that blankness as if it would mend her heart.


Adaire knew it could not.


While he had wasted away in the West Indies, his sister's life had changed in ways he could not even begin to understand. Once upon a time, she had been vibrant and full of life. And then she'd wed the Duke. What she needed the most had been stolen, ripped carelessly away by that bastard. Because of him, Sophia had watched her daughter die. The tragedy had broken something vital in her, buried her brightness under a mountain of pain and heartache.


Nothing Adaire did would ever truly make that sad reality any better for his sister. But Gad, he had tried! Since the moment he returned home, he'd kept her close, kept her safe. Had he failed her so thoroughly that she wanted to be rid of him for good?


A wave of self-loathing rushed through him, the question pulling him up short.


The answer was his last thought upon sleeping and his first upon waking. Every single day, that answer burned like sulfuric acid. He had failed her, so entirely it was a wonder she had ever been able to forgive him at all.


"I never held you responsible," she said as if reading his thoughts, her normally soft voice hard and her eyes shooting off little sparks of brown fire for the first time in weeks. She reached up to tuck pieces of her dark hair behind her ears before smoothing a hand over a wrinkle in her skirts. "I will never forget what you did for me, what you have done for me since–" Her voice cracked on the last word, and she did not finish the sentence. Not once in the last six months had she said the words aloud.


Adaire rose to comfort her as best he could, but she shook her head quickly and continued, "I'm tired of hiding, brother. I'm tired of being afraid and not knowing how to move on. I have to... I want to... I need to go." The mask she wore like armor crumbled, grief and sadness overcoming stoicism in a blink. She sucked in a deep breath, seemingly trying to keep her tears at bay.


Adaire's heart squeezed at the sight. She fought so hard not to cry in front of anyone, but he had seen her grieving and had dried her tears time and again these last months. He had watched her disappear into her own mind and stay there for days, not speaking to anyone. For months, he had let himself believe she would improve with time. But Sophia was not so easily fooled. She had always preferred the hard truth to a comforting lie. He could pretend things weren't as bad as they seemed all he wanted, but she did not have that luxury. She couldn't ignore reality, deny it, or pretend it away. He could dull his guilt with liquor, but her pain was not so easily distracted. Her little girl had died in her arms.


And how Adaire hated her bastard of a husband for it!


If Griffin had not already lay dead when Adaire returned to England, he would have done the honors and dispatched the man himself, consequences be damned. But the scoundrel was forever beyond his reach now, killed by poachers. Adaire found only a small measure of satisfaction in that. Griffin would burn in hell for eternity for what he'd done, never coming near Sophia again. He could no longer hurt her, but her freedom from the monster hadn't come soon enough to save her babe.


"I'm sorry, poppet," Adaire whispered, hanging his head as another wave of guilt crashed through him.


"Tis not your fault," Sophia said, massaging her temples as if her head ached.


"Perhaps not, but I could kill Father for forcing you to wed that bastard."


"Jonathan, no!" Sophia gasped, dropping her hands from her temples to stare at him. "You mustn't blame Papa. Do you think he would have agreed to the marriage had he known the truth about the Duke? Do you truly think so little of him?"


Did he think their father capable of such an act?


He thought about it a moment, staring blankly at his little sister as his fists clenched and unclenched on the arms of his chair. How many times had he asked the same question? A hundred? A thousand? It always came back to the same undeniable fact: their father had always loved Sophia to distraction. If he'd had even an inkling of what the Duke was capable of, he never would have allowed the marriage. Even if refusing had meant the ruination of the family, their father would have refused the Duke to spare Sophia.


"Nay," Adaire conceded with a sigh, "I know he would not have married you to that... that dog had he known. But..." He shook his head, at a loss to explain how many times he'd looked for an answer not to be found. "How could he not have seen it, Sophia? He was right here, dash it!"


That question tormented him. How could their father not have seen the unnatural fixation Griffin had for Sophia? Or how that obsession had so quickly turned? How could Adaire himself not have known what the man was capable of? Sophia had been theirs to protect and they had both failed her monumentally.


"Papa wasn't well, Jonathan. What happened to me–" Sophia broke off. A shudder ran through her, as if saying even that much pulled dark memories to the surface.


Adaire was sure it did. The truth tormented him, too.


Sophia had needed him desperately, and he had not been there to protect her.


"What happened to me devastated him," she whispered. "Not even a week after I wed, he fell ill. By the time Hen-" She sucked in a deep breath, her eyes opening wide.


In six months, Adaire had yet to hear her call that vile man by name or say aloud what he had done to her daughter. When she spoke of him, she called him the Duke, preferring not to speak of him at all. She did not speak her daughter's name either.


"Papa was gone by then," she said quietly, a tremor in her voice. "He did not know."


"Aye, I know." Adaire raked a hand through his hair and frowned, feeling guilty for doubting their father yet again. Because of him, scandal had rocked their family, putting undue stress on the elder Adaire. And then Sophia was attacked. Their father's heart had not been able to withstand the strain when he learned she was with child. By the time she gave birth to little Amelia, the elder Adaire had been gone, two months dead. He'd never met Amelia, just as Jonathan had not. Neither would ever know the beautiful little girl who had stolen Sophia's heart.


Sophia alone carried those memories.


"Are you certain you want to do this?" Adaire asked reluctantly, unable to deny her freedom with that sad truth staring back at him in her haunted eyes.


"Yes, I'm certain." She nodded, determination creeping into her expression.


"Where will you go?" He did not want her to leave, but he could not force her to stay either. Oh, he could have demanded it as her brother, and not a soul would question him for it, but he would not do that to her. God knew she'd had enough taken from her without him taking her independence, too. He would not add to her burden simply because society granted him that right.


"I suppose I shall retur–" She broke off and quickly shook her head. "No, definitely not there. I suppose... well, I suppose I shall rent a house somewhere near."


Adaire cringed inwardly at the reminder of where she could have gone: back to the town home given into her keep when Griffin died. It was one of the finest in London, but Adaire would not let her stay there again, no matter if she begged, which she certainly would not. The home had belonged to Griffin, and Sophia wanted nothing to do with anything he had left her.


"We shall rent you a house," Adaire promised her. "A monstrosity of a house with a massive garden." Sophia had always loved spending time in the gardens, but they had become something more for her now. A port in the storm. A dream world, he sometimes feared, where she could lose herself with no pain and no memories.


"A livable house will do," she said quietly, "but I will take the gardens."


"I truly cannot change your mind?"


"Nay, not this time."


"Very well, then. I shan't try." Adaire stood and strode around the desk to her, dragging her slender frame from her chair and into his arms for a bone-crushing hug. She sighed and laid her head on his chest, hugging him tightly in return.


They stood quietly for a long moment, his thoughts churning.


He didn't want to let her go, blast it. She was his only sister and they had always been close. He had grown accustomed to having her with him again, to being able to look up and see her across the room and know that she was well. Even before learning of the nightmare she'd endured after he'd left for the West Indies three years ago, he'd worried about her. Now that worry consumed him.


Before Griffin destroyed her, Sophia had been unlike any other miss of the ton... intelligent, mischievous, and fiercely protective of those she cared about. Everyone admired her, respected her, loved her. She had been a vibrant, compassionate soul with a kind smile and an infectious laugh, able to win over the most draconian of souls with her quick wit, soft heart, and indomitable spirit.


She declined every invitation sent her way now, permitting only those closest to her to pay a call. Adaire could not remember the last time he saw her laugh or smile. If her leaving meant that she might reclaim even a portion of the fiery young woman she had been before Griffin, he had to let her go.


"Very well, dear girl," he whispered gruffly, giving in with as much grace as he could muster.

Tears welled in Sophia's sad brown eyes. "Oh, Jonathan. I shall miss you so."


"You shan't," he commanded, hugging her tight before setting her away from him. "I forbid it. Go find what it is you're looking for and don't settle for anything less. Promise me that, Sophia. Promise me you'll be happy and take care of yourself."


"I will," she promised, swiping at her eyes. "I promise I will. You're the sweetest brother, do you know that?"


"Nay." He kissed her lightly on the top of the head and released her again. "I fear I'm the biggest idiot in England and I have no doubt that I will live to regret this. Just promise me that you'll come back to me if it gets to be too much, poppet. I daresay I'll be miserable without you."


Sophia swiped at her eyes again. "If I cannot do it, I will move back in with you. But I shan't need to, Jonathan. I shan't," she vowed and lifted on her toes to kiss his cheek before turning and walking from the library, her step noticeably lighter than it had been at any time since he'd returned.


He watched her go, fighting the urge to call her back and tell her that he had changed his mind. She was too beautiful, too trusting, and too damned brilliant to be on her own. Not to mention, she was worth a fortune. Unscrupulous, dastardly men like the Duke still ruled the ton. When they learned Sophia was no longer under Adaire's constant watch, they would line up at her door, trying to push her into marriage in order to claim that fortune for themselves.

Damnation!


"Jensen!" Adaire circled back to his chair and grabbed a quill. Sophia might not ever forgive him for this interference, but he would accept her anger. Whatever he had to do to keep her safe. He would not fail her this time.


His valet slipped into the room. "Yes, my lord?"


"Take this and have it sent to Seabrooke in France, will you?" He scrawled a few lines on a piece of parchment and folded it neatly before holding it out. "No, wait." He tossed up a hand as Jensen reached for the note. "Have Stone deliver it to Seabrooke in person. And tell him...." He hesitated a moment and then dropped the note into his valet's outstretched hand before he could second guess himself. "Tell him that I am begging him to do this thing for me. Literally pleading that he get Dante back here. Tell him– Ah, hell. Bring him to me and I shall tell him myself."


Jensen's eyebrows rose but he did not ask questions as he handed the note back into Adaire's keeping and bowed. Adaire sighed and dropped his head into his hands, praying Seabrooke would answer his summons.


Sophia would probably kill him if she knew his plan, but he would sooner cut open a vein and bleed than see her hurt again. Seabrooke would help her. He'd protect her, and keep her safe whilst she pursued life on her own. And maybe he could help her heal in the process. He had to, blast it, because whether Adaire liked to admit it or not, the grief and guilt she carried like weights around her neck were dragging her under.


He'd be damned before he let them drown her altogether.

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